1 Lectionary Preaching

Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA, PhD

Let me explain how I got into this [lectionary preaching]. Several years ago, I was approached by the Liturgical Press. They asked me if I would redo – I think they said update, I can’t remember the exact verb – Reginald Fuller’s Preaching the Lectionary. So I said to them, “Now, do you want me to update it or do you want me to start from scratch?” And they said, “Start from scratch.”

It just so happened that the year before that, a colleague of mine, Richard Fragomeni, who is a priest of Albany, and I team taught a course, “Hermeneutics for Bible and Preaching.” Richard introduced me to a method of analyzing the biblical material. You’re not going to get any preaching method from me tonight, but I will talk about the content of the preaching.

But he introduced me to a method that he learned from his mentor, David Powers, OMI, from Catholic University, and another student at the time that Richard was going to school with. Leas was his first name, and he was, hopefully, going to be the one that was going to develop this and sort of promote it; but he became a bishop and didn’t have any time to do those kinds of things.

So, Richard and I worked on this particular project, and it ended up being three volumes. I’m not pushing you to buy it, but it’s nice if you do. But if you take a look at the book, it’s my name with Richard Fragomeni. And it’s with Richard Fragomeni, not because he wrote it – every one of those words is mine. I wrote every word there, but he’s the one who taught me the method, and he is the one with whom we discussed the theological themes.

So, what I’m going to talk about is that particular method, but I want to talk about a couple of themes first. I’m going to talk a little bit about liturgical preaching; and you must realize that I speak now, though I do preach, even though homiletics is not my area of expertise. So, what I have to say is by one who is very much committed to biblical ministry, not just biblical exegesis and biblical analysis, but biblical ministry; and preaching is biblical ministry.

I want to talk briefly about how I understand liturgical preaching, and then also I want to speak briefly about the difference between biblical preaching and liturgical preaching, because I do not believe that they are exactly the same. There is an overlapping, of course, but there is a significant difference.

First of all, liturgical preaching can be understood in various ways, I believe. Certainly, when we are in the specific liturgical seasons, preaching frequently flows out of development of systematic themes that are associated with that season. For example, Advent is the time for preparation for the coming of Christ; and Lent, of course, is the time of penance for sin. Those are systematic themes. I want to say they are not liturgical themes, not if you look at the readings of the liturgy.

If you look carefully at the readings, let’s say for Advent, it is not until we get to the fourth Sunday of Advent that there is any mention of the coming of Christ. What the other readings have to say, or concentrate on, is the coming of salvation and restoration. They are restoration themes. Now, clearly, we understand within the season that the moment that initiated or inaugurated our restoration was the birth of Jesus, and then the life of Jesus, which then culminates in the death and resurrection.

When we preach systematic theological themes, it’s not the same as lectionary or biblical preaching; and I’m not prepared to say it’s not liturgical preaching, because we certainly are bringing in themes that are associated with that liturgy, but the association comes from systematic theology. It does not come from the lectionary.

The same thing with Lent. If you look carefully at Lent, there are very, very few readings in Lent that really capitalize on our sinfulness and our need to do penance. The readings of Lent really look at the graciousness and mercy of God; it’s an entirely different kind of a focus. Now, that does not deny, of course, that we are sinners, because you don’t need the mercy of God if you’re not a sinner.

So, it’s not the denial of sin, but it’s an entirely different focus. The focus is on the goodness and the graciousness of God and not on human frailty. So, if we’re doing liturgical reading, liturgical preaching based on the lectionary readings, be very careful that you do not bring in another theological theme that may not be in the reading.

Now, again, I want to say that I am not in any way saying that’s not liturgical preaching, and I’m not certainly saying that’s not good preaching; but I want to concentrate on liturgical preaching that flows out of what the liturgy provides for us; and that includes – ideally includes – the lections, the prayers, the collects, the preface, all of that.

Now, on one hand, and I do not say this with any kind of disrespect: it’s kind of a liturgical smorgasbord. If you look at just one Sunday, if you look at the readings, you look at the collects, the prayers, you look at the preface; and if it is the major season, you may even have a sequence.

The themes do not all weave together neatly; and anyone who has tried to do that realizes you really stretch the readings, if not your own creativity, trying to weave together themes that have nothing to do with each other. And I use the word “smorgasbord” because try to go to a smorgasbord and eat everything. That, sometimes, is what happens when we try to preach every single theme. You get the same kind of bloated feeling.

But I want to say smorgasbord in the best sense. Look at all the richness. But I can’t eat it all, I can’t even taste it all, and I don’t have to, because it’s not going to go away. I can concentrate on these themes or that theme this time, and those themes another time.

We are past the time when all we have to do is pull out the drawer, pick out the homily and read it, because I’ve done that last year or I did it three years ago. The readings haven’t changed, the people haven’t been changed, I haven’t changed. They’ll forget about it, and I just read it. I think we’re beyond that, though maybe once in a while, you wonder, don’t you?

When I talk about liturgical preaching, I am going to be talking not about the systematic themes, but, really, the lections. Again, I’m not going to talk about the prayers or the sequence or the prefaces. I want to really talk about the lections, which brings me then into making a distinction between biblical preaching and lectionary preaching.

I’m not going to quibble about the terms, but I want to make a distinction. And I make this distinction realizing that, frequently, liturgists and biblical theologians are not in agreement on this; and in this particular question, I lean toward the liturgists’ position on just what it is we are reading and using in our preaching. Are we using biblical passages, even though they open up and say, “This is the Word of the Lord”?

I’m sure you know this is not the Word of the Lord. This proclaiming is the Word of the Lord. And you can’t get up at a podium, you can’t get up in an ambo at the end of the liturgy and say, “This is the Word of the Lord.” I mean, what are people going to think? And yet, maybe, in fact, it’s the proclamation! That’s the Word of the Lord.

I am reminded of something that we used to have at our retirement in my community. I’m a Sister of St. Agnes from Wisconsin and, in our retirement home – they don’t do it anymore – but the reader would get up and say, “The first reading is on page seven.” And, of course, the presumption is they couldn’t hear the proclamation; and so, they would follow, and it is understandable in a situation like that.

But it is not understandable when we have people who can hear. And part of the problem, of course, is we have people that can’t proclaim, can’t even read sometimes, much less proclaim. So, as wonderful as missalettes are, they also have limitations. They don’t help us to realize this is a proclamation.

Again, a little aside. I once thought it would be wonderful to explain, to do a kind of exegesis of, not the readings, but of the congregation. Instead of reading the readings and then preach, do a kind of exegesis – out loud, of course – of the group; and talk about who we are and what we need, and what problems do we face today, you and I, in the world in which we live, in the church in which we are. And after however period of time is acceptable for a homily, after we do that, then you do the readings.

And if you’ve done it well, you don’t have to explain the readings, because they open up within the context. Now, of course, you have to know what the readings are, so you know, in your mind, at least, to make the connections. But then, the readings are proclaimed, and people’s interior has been opened up to hear the Word of the Lord in the context in which they find themselves. But, what’s the difference between a lection and a biblical reading? The difference is re-contextualization.

I’m sure that you have heard many people say, and maybe you have said it yourself, that it’s unfortunate that some lectionary readings cut out certain verses; and I want to go back to the Bible and find those verses, so I can complete the reading. Well, there’s a reason why these verses have been cut out.

Now, you and I may not know the reason, but those who make the selections know the reason. And I want to say, the reason that certain verses in some readings have been eliminated is because the liturgists did not want us to concentrate on the themes that are in those verses; they want us to concentrate on the themes that are in the verses that have remained. Now that, in itself, changes a reading.

So, biblical readings have various contexts. I’m sure we’re all aware of the fact that the Bible is, first of all, literature; and, therefore, a reading has its own literary context. And the literary context of Mark 13 is Mark 12 and Mark 14. And, clearly, within that literary context, the meaning of 13 unfolds. Ideally, we can discover the meaning of Mark 13 by itself, okay? But, then, we put it in its context, or we see it in its context, and both what precedes and what follows throws more light on the meaning that we have discovered. So, it has the literary context.

But, in the lectionary, we are taking it out of its literary context, its original context, and we are putting it in a new context. And the new context – if it’s Mark 13 – the new context, then, is the first reading, the psalm response and the second reading. That’s the new context. And from a liturgical point of view, the meaning found in the first reading, the psalm response and the second reading throws light on the meaning of Mark 13.

That is not to say that the readings interpret each other. It is, rather, that the theology that we glean after we examine each one of the readings separately – the light and the knowledge that we glean from each reading – in a certain sense, as Richard Fragomeni always says, they play with each other. The meanings play with each other, not the readings. The meanings play with each other. So you have to do an excavation. You have to do an exegesis of the readings, and then you discover, as with the smorgasbord, what do we have here?

And then, also, as a smorgasbord, what will look good on the plate? If I only have three kinds of meat, that’s not going to be the best kind of a diet. So, you have a little bit of this theme, and a little bit of that theme, and a little bit of that theme, because it fits together. Now, that’s the difference. A biblical passage, strictly speaking, is the passage within its biblical context; but when you take it out of its context and you put it in another context, then it’s a liturgical passage, and that’s why we call them lections.

Now, again, we use the terms interchangeably. And I certainly wouldn’t put any money down on one way or another how to use the language, so long as we understand what we’re doing. As I said, not all the biblical people agree with that. I know excellent exegetes who believe that the only way you can really understand Mark 13 is within its biblical context, and I don’t happen to agree with that. And, again, you don’t have to take sides on that, but I think it’s important to understand that there are different ways of understanding and it’s not so much a question of what is right or wrong. It’s a question of different ways of understanding. That’s all.

So then, when I talk about liturgical preaching, I am talking about looking at the lections and allowing the theology of the lections to, first of all, come out and then see: what do we have in this theology? And, once again, there’s so much theology. There are so many themes. Sometimes, a theme will become very prominent. And the reason it will become prominent is because of another context; and that is the historical context within which we are preaching.

Now, we could take the same readings – let’s say, the readings for Sunday – and we could all discover what the readings for Sunday are. We could agree upon the theology and, then, we could talk about it among ourselves; and our context in this room is a very, very sophisticated context. It is a highly, theologically sophisticated context that you will not find in your average parish. I’m telling you nothing that you don’t know.

So, that context changes. What you would say to theologians – whether they are learning theologians or professional theologians – you will not say in a parish. What you will say to children, you will not say to adolescents. You will have the same theology but, somehow or other, you will have to do the hermeneutical move and bring that theology alive to a new context.

So, in preaching, there are so many contexts that we must be aware of. I want to say, first of all, it is the context of the season. Not the context of the day, but the context of the season. Now, I want to limit what I’m saying to Sunday preaching: the context of the season.

How do you discover the theology of the season? I believe that one way of discovering the theology of the season is to look at all of the readings of the season and try to see: is there any kind of commonality? Now, that’s not terribly hard to do with Advent. You only have four Sundays. And it’s not hard to do for Lent, and it’s not hard to do for Easter.

It’s a killer for Ordinary Time. Except, in a certain sense, Ordinary Time gets short shrift, because it’s just Ordinary Time. And I want to say, as I have said so often in much of my writing, that’s where we live. We live in Ordinary Time. Once in a while, we have a peak. We have a Christmas or a major feast. Or in our own lives, something happens to us: final vows or ordination or whatever, or marriage. So we have a peak moment, and maybe where there’s great preparation for that moment; and then, afterwards, we revel in the glory of that moment. And then we’re back to Ordinary Time.

And Ordinary Time is where we really live. Now, this may be very superficial, but in the work that I’ve done, I have come to the conclusion that the primary theme of the Sundays of Ordinary Time, in every one of the three years, is discipleship. And that makes sense. I mean, how didn’t I know that before I had to go through all those readings to discover it?

But it is discipleship: the call to discipleship, what it means to be a disciple, the cost of discipleship, the parables of the Kingdom, which all have to do with discipleship, whether we are in Matthew here or Mark or Luke. So, in a very real sense, then, when I said, “Well, we do liturgical preaching,” we discover: what’s the major context? What’s the broad context?

And, let’s say, for Ordinary Time – because that’s where we are now – it is a discipleship. Then, if I have some sense of discipleship toward the last Sundays, where we are now, we’re moving toward a more somber understanding of discipleship. So, we’ll come across

in Matthew’s Gospel the parables about how to be a disciple when the end is coming. And so you will see eschatological parables in these last Sundays before the end of the liturgical year. But it’s still all discipleship. But let’s say that that’s it.

So, that’s my thinking; that’s the broad context within which I’m thinking. It is discipleship, and it’s discipleship that’s not summertime discipleship. It’s autumn discipleship: northern hemisphere, autumn discipleship. The harvest is over, all right? Or, at least, we’re in the time of harvest. That’s the mentality.

Then, with that kind of mentality, I would look at the readings for a particular Sunday and discover – looking at each one of the readings – what’s the theology in these readings? Or, to put it another way, what’s the theology for this particular Sunday? Realizing that that theology, understood within the context, is a very serious, sometimes sobering discipleship. Not that any kind of sobering puts a mantle of somberness on, but you realize we’re beyond lightheartedness.

It’s not just the thrill of being called a disciple. It’s the realization: scrutiny is coming. We’re going to have to give an account of our stewardship, to use that expression. And that’s the thinking; therefore, we look to see it within these readings.

Again, a little aside. We really have done almost nothing with the psalm response; and sometimes we change it because we like the music that we’re going to use instead. And the psalm response ideally, of course, is to be a response to the first reading. I mean, that’s what the liturgists have arranged. It is a response to the first reading; and if you look carefully, the psalms are sometimes psalms of praise.

Toward the end, now, we’ve got some laments. Very little of our psalms praise toward the end of the liturgical year, because the readings don’t lend themselves to praise. But it’s some kind of serious accountability. So we have laments, and we have psalms of hope and trust. And, again, it’s ideally to be a response to the first reading.

However, there are also, I think, some often very appropriate prayers simply to be prayers for that day, because, in a very real sense, they capture some of the major theology that we find, not only in the first reading, but in other readings as well. So we look, then, at the theology of these readings.

As an Old Testament biblical theologian, I am not at all happy with a very strong, traditional way of understanding the relationship between the two testaments. It’s not just because I’m an Old Testament scholar. I’ve been in the Catholic-Jewish Scholars’ Dialogue in Chicago for the last 18 years. One becomes very, very sensitive to any suggestion of Supersessionism when you are dealing with Jewish scholars.

Supersessionism, of course, meaning that, now that we’ve got Jesus, we don’t need the Old Testament. Or now that we’ve got the New Testament, we don’t need the Old Testament. Or Christianity now has displaced Judaism. I do not deny that there is – I won’t call it Supersessionism – but there certainly is in Paul’s teaching a notion we are the new Israel.

I want to say, however, in the world in which we live today – a world in which, by the way, we are now commemorating the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, which is the Vatican document that would talk about a sea change that really shifted Christianity’s understanding of its relationship with other world religions – one can only say that some traditional teaching about the superiority of Christianity is very troublesome, and I say that as a loyal Catholic.

I am not prepared to say that it doesn’t make any difference what religion you believe in or you practice. I’m not saying that, but I’m saying that some of the very, very strong promise fulfillment ideology is very troublesome. And it’s troublesome, not so much because of the theology – though that’s bad enough – but the consequences of living out that theology, and the notion that “now that we have New Testament, we don’t need Old Testament” was condemned as a heresy in the Early Church. And yet, we still have people who feel that way, without realizing that they think they are so faithful; they don’t even know they’re heretics. But most of us don’t when we are, right?

I want to say that it’s rather troublesome. I say that because I am well aware that one of the principles of arranging the readings – we find this in the preface, I believe, of the Roman Missal – one of the principles was the principle of promise and fulfillment. In a certain sense, the first reading presents the promise, and the Gospel presents the fulfillment. That’s very troublesome theology in the world in which we live today.

More than that, for a woman Catholic, it is troublesome from a theological point of view, because the first Testament is our Bible. It’s a Christian Bible. I think it is incorrect to talk about the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, as if the Old Testament is not Christian Scriptures. It doesn’t just belong to the Jewish people.

In fact, they have a different Bible than we do. They have a different Tanakh. They have a different Old Testament. It’s not arranged the same way. I’m not just talking about the fact that we have some books and some passages in certain books that they don’t have. It’s not even arranged the same way. Our first Testament ends with Malachi. Their Tanakh, their Bible – that’s not even the word they use – but their Scriptures, their Tanakh, ends with II Chronicles.

And the arrangement is theological in design. So if you look very carefully, their Tanakh – and that’s Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim: the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – their Tanakh ends with the last part of II Chronicles. We have the story of Cyrus commissioning the Jews to go back home and rebuild the Temple. That’s how their Bible ends, and that has inspired them to this day to go back and rebuild the Temple.

Now many of them were satisfied when they went back in ’48; but for many very, very religious Jews, that biblical passage commissions them to ultimately rebuild the Temple. It ends theologically with an exhortation that has motivated them for thousands of years. The Christian Old Testament ends with Malachi, “I will send my messenger ahead.” And it begins with Mark, with the messenger coming. It’s arranged so that we can see the connection.

Again, we have to remember that promise-fulfillment, which we find in the Scriptures. We find that in the Old Testament: the promise-fulfillment. It’s always retro, a reading back into; but we find that in the exilic prophets. The prophets are not looking to the future. Their prophetic work basically looks to the past and is reinterpreting. That’s particularly in the Deuteronomistic, in the historical writings.

You do find that sense that God made promises, and the promises will be fulfilled, so the Christian community simply appropriated that notion and saw themselves and their writings – because of Jesus and His claims, which we believe are true claims, but not everybody does – that He is the fulfillment of the ancient promises.

That notion of promise-fulfillment is well grounded in our tradition. But over the centuries, we have used that in despicable ways to marginalize people, to persecute people, and to put them to death, to dismiss their religious claims. It’s only recently that some – not only theologians but the teaching magisterium of the Church as well – that the official magisterium of the Church acknowledges something that Paul says: that the promises made to the people of Israel have not been abrogated.

But we still have that in our lectionary. And if we have that in our lectionary, I think sometimes we have that in our preaching. And that is not helpful, because while it may not suggest anti Semitism, it certainly does sometimes suggest anti-Judaism. And anti-Judaism is not too far from anti-Semitism.

That kind of understanding of the relationship between the First Reading and the Gospel reading is not helpful at all. In fact, at times, it could be very dangerous. So I want to acknowledge that that theme is very much a part of our religious tradition. But there are other things that are part of our religious tradition. Over the centuries, we have learned at least to soften and interpret them in ways that are not harmful to other people.

Some of these themes developed in a kind of survivalist mentality. Well, we’re not in a survivalist mentality anymore, and sometimes it reverts. What do we do with that, then? My suggestion is don’t make it promise and fulfillment. Don’t preach that using the two readings, for the reasons that I’ve given.

So we’re still talking about contexts. First, you have the general context of the season. Then, you have the context of the Sunday. The Sunday, as I said, has the three readings and psalm response. Very often, the themes of the psalm response appear in the First Reading and sometimes in the other readings as well. So, when dealing with the theological themes, it really comes to life in the context of the people before us, in the context of the living community now.

I always tell my students that finding out what the passages mean is not hard. You can learn how to do exegesis. And if you don’t do exegesis, you can get commentaries that do exegesis. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is the hermeneutics. The hard part, once you discover what the texts say, is what are you going to do with it? How do you take that theology and bring it to life or allow that theology to come alive in the minds and hearts of the people to whom you’re speaking? That’s the challenge.

Something that is very, very prominent in theology today, which was not in the past, is a kind of exegesis or an analysis of the community. I’m not sure if you are acquainted with the theorist Gadamer, where Gadamer talks about three worlds. You’ve got the fictive world within the text, you’ve got the world behind the text and you have the world in front of the text.

Let me just briefly summarize this. When you think about a story, a story creates a world. Otherwise, why do people cry at movies? It’s because you’re drawn into the world. Or why do you laugh? Or why do you cheer when you’re a spectator? But you’re not. A good story pulls you in, into that world.

Now, it’s called fictive world, and fictive not meaning fiction in the bad sense, but it comes from fiction in the best sense. Fiction, meaning it may not be historically accurate. Narrative exegesis reminds us of this. So, you’ve got the world within the text, and that’s the world – let’s say it’s a Gospel story of Jesus – it’s the world of Jesus preaching or Jesus healing. That’s the world within the text. And somehow or other, it is within that world that we have a message for us.

You and I are the heirs of historical-critical method; and within the Roman Catholic Church, that’s a new venture. For many of you, it’s always been that way, because of your age; but in the history of the Church, we only were using historical-critical method from about ’42 or ’43, legally. There were exegetes who did it before, but it was frowned upon until Pius XII, in Divino Afflante Spiritu, said that we should investigate using historical-critical methods. That’s only over 60 years, which is nothing in the history of the Church.

Historical-critical began with Protestants at the time of the Reformation. They accused the Church, rightly, that they were making the texts say anything they wanted it to say. That’s not what the original authors intended. And so they wanted to find out what the original authors intended. That’s the beginning of the historical-critical method. It is so much a part of the Catholic Church’s investigation of the Scriptures today that we may not always appreciate the fact that it’s relatively new.

Well, we’re not behind. We caught up with it real fast. So, we’ve got the historical-critical, which means that we’re looking at another world, not the world within the text but the world behind the text, the world of the author. They’re not necessarily the same world, any more than Rowling lives in the world of Harry Potter. She’s created a wonderful world, but the world of Harry Potter is a fictive world. Now, from her world – the world behind the text, the world of the author – she picked certain details and put them together in a very, very engaging way. But if her world is the world of Harry Potter, she’s got problems. So, you can see that.

It’s like that with the Gospels. Unfortunately, people ask historical questions about the fictive world, historical questions about Harry Potter. In no way am I suggesting that the Gospel is like Harry Potter, all right? I’m just using that as an example. So they ask historical questions about Harry Potter. It’s about the author of Harry Potter. Historical questions belong to the author. Literary questions belong to the story.

So, you’ve got the world within the text, which is where the message is, and you’ve got the world behind the text. And, frequently, what happens in our proficiency with historical-critical work, we can reconstruct basically the world behind the text; and that’s what you get in a homily.

You get all the historical details about Matthew’s community and what they were going through, all of which is very interesting; but it’s the world behind the text. And the message is not there, and revelation is not there. Somehow or other, revelation takes place with the message of the world within the text. Then it’s the world in front of the text, which is us.

So, we do a great exegesis of the world behind the text. I’m saying that what we’ve got to do is learn to do an exegesis of the world in front of the text, the social world in front of the text, not just the social world behind the text, not just the literary forms behind the text – all of which is important.

All of that is important. And I say that as a trained historical critic. But if that’s all we do, we are in history. Interestingly, many of the new insights that we learn from historical criticism we must also apply to the world out in front of the text, which means our world. In other words, what literary forms do we use when we communicate with each other?

I’m smart enough to know I should never stand in front of the students. I don’t know what literary forms they use. I absolutely have no idea how they’re going to hear what I’m saying. I mean, I could be obscene. I have no idea because I don’t know how they would hear what I’m saying. I know my literary forms, all right. I know the kinds of literary forms within certain circles, but I would be very, very loathe, very, very slow to preach or to teach to people of another culture in their culture, without knowing what some of their literary forms are.

I’m teaching a course, “Contemporary Issues of Biblical Theology.” One of my students is Indonesian. The primary issue that we started with just yesterday is “the integrity of creation,” so it’s eco-theology we started out with. I was asking, “What did you find interesting or challenging about the book that you were supposed to read?”

It was a collection of essays on eco-theology done by some women, Roman Catholic women from a committee, a continuing seminar of the Catholic Biblical Association. They had collected these essays. They’ve got in those essays not only eco-theology, but they’ve also got a feminist approach to it.

And he was saying that, “You know, in my culture, we like things to be in balance.” And he said, “You know, sometimes, I read some of these women, and they throw things off balance.” I think there was one other Anglo woman in the class besides myself, and he said they throw things off balance. And my response to him was, “You realize, of course, that they will say that what you consider balance is off-balance; and that what they’re trying to do is re-create the balance.” And he was going on about this and not accepting what I was saying.

Then, it dawned on me that I wasn’t understanding what he was saying. He was talking. For an Anglo to be saying that was one thing; but the way he was trying to describe that balance, it’s not just a question of having everything neat. It’s having everything balanced that was so very much a part of his mindset. And I was correcting him from an Anglo, a linear point of view.

So, when we talk about the literary forms of the ancient world, we should know more than the literary forms, in other words, the ways of thinking, the ways of perception of the people that we are preaching to. That is so difficult, because where do you find a mono-cultural community? But we have to at least realize that they may be different than ours.

So you’ve got different literary forms, you’ve got different language, you have different social realities. You don’t talk to people of Asian background in the same way that you talk to people of African background. And I’m not talking about Asian American and African-American. You don’t talk to people of one age, generational age, in the same way you talk to people of another age.

That’s the challenge of hermeneutics. That’s the other context. And that is the context for preaching and teaching. But I want to say for preaching, because this is what this talk is about, it is imperative that we be extremely sensitive to those.

Those of us who are part of the dominant culture – and I put myself there, because, of course, I am, despite the fact that I am a woman in what is relatively a man’s world in Church. But I am still part of the dominant culture. We presume, “They’re here. By God, they better learn. You’re in America; be an American.” You know, when in Rome, do as the Romans. Well, when in America, do as the Americans.

But we can’t have that kind of mentality. The reason is not simply because we are open and generous; but the reason is because we have the privilege of bringing the Word of God to the people of God, so they can hear it. Not so that they hear it my way, but so they can hear it their way. And, therefore, it’s imperative that we have some sense of what that context is. That also demands that we have an understanding of our own social location. I am convinced that most of us don’t. Now that may sound strange, but I think we take our social location for granted.

Anthropologists tell us that there are basically four cultural or ethnological institutions: gender, economic, political and then religious. Now, we all know what gender we belong to. That’s not too hard at this point; we all know what we are. But are we really conscious of how we perceive that in society?

I speak up for myself. Obviously, I’m a woman, and I’m an articulate woman, and that’s not always very popular in certain circles. I have one sibling. I have a sister who is two-and-a-half years my senior, so I never grew up in a house where a boy was. And it’s not uncommon in my generation that the boys in a family were favorites, because the girls are going to get married, anyway. And so, the boys were favorites.

I never had that experience. I came from a family where my father made sure that we spoke our mind at the table, the supper table. And then, I went to the community, and I didn’t realize until I got in the community: that’s not a very popular mentality. [Audience laughs.] You can laugh about the community; but then I go into a man’s world. Theology was a man’s world.

So, I’m articulate, and I don’t realize that I’m offensive. I don’t think I’m offensive. I don’t realize I’m offensive. Now, I say that about myself, and that’s just gender. And I think every one of us has got to understand: what are the implications of the way we perceive our gender in a bi-gender church?

You’ve got gender, you’ve got age, you have class. I can remember a colleague of mine came from upper class. I come from working class. My father was a truck mechanic. We never wanted anything, but I come from working class. And she came from upper class, I mean upper class. Her mother – her father died when she was very young – her mother had one of those buttons underneath the table. When she pushed the button, the servant came in. That’s upper class.

She once said, “You know, we always dressed for dinner.” And I thought to myself, “So did we.” But I knew she meant something different. We can laugh at that, but when I talk about poverty, I didn’t lose anything. When she took the vow of poverty, she lost a lot. So, I think when we talk about our relation – we know who we are.

We know what our economic standing is. We know what our politics are. But we may never really be reflective about how that functions as a minister. And that’s very important, because if we don’t know our social location, we will not be sensitive to the social location of others. And all of that is very much a part of this magnificent venture that we call preaching.

So, to pull it all together: we talk about liturgical preaching, then, it is really taking the riches of the lections and analyzing them using whatever critical methods we can. By that, I mean literary methods. What’s really going on in that story? And from an historical point of view, can history throw more light on what is going on in that story, in that parable, in that oracle, or in that psalm? That’s the first step: understanding that, and understanding that within the context of the season.

I’m sure you know that there are a few readings that are found both in Advent and Lent. They function differently in these two seasons. They better function differently, but it’s the same reading with the same theology. Something opens up in one season, and something else opens up in another. And, of course, then they open up with different adjoining texts, or related texts, because of the Sunday in which we find them.

Then we take all of that, and with skill and imagination, we open it up in such a way that it hits them in the mind and the heart.

And that’s the Word of the Lord.